When you think of Colorado sports you probably think of the Broncos, the Rockies, snow sports, and rock climbing. But did you know that NASCAR has a racer living in the mountains? Regan Smith talks to us about the draws of mountain living, driving fast cars, and what it was like to race in the most known car in the sport.
5280: How did you get into racing?
Regan Smith: I started racing when I lived in Cato, New York when I was like four-and-a-half-years-old, just through some friends of the family. My family had always been involved in racing. Nobody had ever driven, but my dad owned cars and my parents met at a racetrack. I started practicing when I was four-and-a-half and got to start racing competitively when I was five, and that’s pretty much all I’ve done since then.
5280: Can you tell me a little bit about your time at Furniture Row Racing?
RS: I had been with Furniture Row since ’09, so almost four years. When I started off, it was a work in progress. We took it and built it into a team that won a cup race, which is a big deal. We grew together, learned together, and had a lot of fun there. We took it from a team that was just trying to find its way, to a team that had a solid foundation, and a team that, hopefully, for everybody’s sake, is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come. And, even though I’m not there anymore, I still hope that they have a lot of success.
5280: How did you end up at the Denver-based team so far away from all the NASCAR action in Charlotte? I didn’t even know there was a NASCAR team out here.
RS: A lot of people don’t realize it’s there and that they travel that far every week. It’s kind of an anomaly in the sport that the team isn’t based in North Carolina. For me, it was a situation; 2008 was my rookie year in the Sprint Cup Series and I won rookie of the year. The company I was with was basically losing some sponsors and consolidating at the end of the year, and my team got cut from the mix. I was left without a ride after that year. Right around Christmas of ’08, I had been talking to those guys on and off and got put together through some mutual friends with them, talked to them periodically, and, as things played out, I was in Beaver Creek when I actually agreed to go to work for them.
5280: What was it like to race in place of Dale Earnheardt, Jr.?
RS: It was definitely big shoes to fill, there’s no doubt about that. He’s our most popular driver I think 10 years in a row now, so he’s got a large fan base. It was a bad circumstance and a bad situation. It just so happened, as fate would have it, the week before that was my final week in the 78 car and I was going to be moving on to whatever was next for me. I had been talking to him, to his sister Kelly, and Mr. Hendrick about possibly hopping in a Nationwide car and racing some. When all that went down with the concussion situation that he had, it was just kind of a natural fit. I was just really appreciative that they called me and gave me the opportunity to do that and that they thought of me first. It’s certainly a pressure-filled situation when you hop in that 88 car and it was a great experience for me. I definitely learned a lot doing it.
5280: Now that you’re signed with the Nationwide Series, what are you looking forward to next year?
RS: My expectations going into it were to win the championship next year. You don’t just want to win the championship, you want to win a lot of races. We’ve added some really good people. I’ve got a crew chief who has been a head engineer and won five cup championships with Jimmy Johnson, and we’ve got a lot of steam behind junior motorsports so anything less than a championship is going to be a disappointment.
5280: You’re still Colorado-based even though the Nationwide team is based in Charlotte?
RS: I’m back and forth a lot more now than what I was ... because the team is in North Carolina. But still Colorado-based and love it up on the mountain. It’s something cool about being able to get away from things and wake up in the morning, look out your window, and just have a view and see the city down there. There’s nothing like that.
5280: With all the traveling, why not move to Charlotte?
RS: Just because I love the area. I love being out here. I’ve got homes in both places, so we go back and forth, but it’s just a situation where my wife and I, we both fell in love with the Colorado mountain lifestyle and how outdoorsy the whole area is. There’s always something going on. It’s one of the most active areas I’ve ever been in and that’s one thing that I don’t think any other part of the country I’ve ever been to can compete with.
5280: What’s your favorite part about racing?
RS: My favorite part about racing has got to be winning. There’s no feeling like it. There’s that moment whenever you cross that checkered flag and you win and you know that you beat everybody. Nothing else matters at that moment. There’s a certain rush that goes through your body. We’re all adrenaline junkies and that’s the ultimate adrenaline: just to know that you are better than everybody else and that you are going to get to do some partying and drink a couple beers.
5280: Do you think it’s partly that adrenaline junkie in you that makes you enjoy Colorado so much?
RS: I think so. I mean, I get up in the mountains and, if I’m snowboarding, I don’t go much faster than the blue and green slopes because I don’t really want to get hurt snowboarding when I make a living driving cars, but, with that being said, I think it all goes hand in hand. I see the guys in the Golden area when they’re on their hang-gliders and stuff like that and I think, man, I’d love to do that. You see some of the kids that are out there doing some action sports and, just when I think I’ve got a little bit of that adrenaline in me, I look at them and think, wow, I’m a pansy.
—Image by Harold Hinson Photography